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Breaking the cycle

Foster care alum Melissa Pacheco

Melissa Pacheco’s foster parents changed the course of her life.

Watching her husband play with their two little girls sometimes brings tears to Melissa Pacheco’s eyes.

“My daughters are loved—they are safe. They are growing up with happy memories. I am so grateful that I can give them these things—things I never had,” Melissa said.

Melissa entered foster care at 10 years old, after years of enduring what she describes as “all kinds of abuse” from her drug-addicted parents. For the next four years, she bounced around between family members who she felt did not love her and temporary foster homes.

Finally, when she was 14 years old, Melissa was placed with her permanent family. Initially, it was meant to be another short-term stay. The plan was for Melissa to spend the school year with this new foster family and then return to her aunt’s home the following summer.

But as summer approached, Melissa became increasingly certain that she did not want to live with her aunt’s family. She wanted more. She wanted a family who loved her.

“Making the decision that I was not going back to my aunt’s house was not easy. The only way I was able to do it was with the support of my foster parents. They stood up for me—and they gave me the courage to stand up for myself. When they did that, they changed the course of my life,” Melissa said.

Melissa told her aunt that she was not coming back. She stayed with her foster parents, who—though they never legally adopted her—became her permanent family.

“They supported me through college—emotionally and financially. When I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, they were there, sharing in my joy. Three years ago, my dad gave me away at my wedding.”

Melissa says that before she married, she and her husband agreed that they would be foster parents someday, when their children were older. In the meantime, she is eager to share her story as an example to other children growing up in care.

“Foster care can leave you feeling like you don’t have a choice. But you do! You can choose to get an education; you can find people who love you. You don’t have to follow in your parents’ footsteps and repeat the mistakes that they made.”